Benjamin-Nugent-by-Annie-Baker-2012-768x1024Okay, so with every new client I like to ask, what do you hope to gain from therapy?

I want to become a better writer. My novel, Good Kids, published by Scribner January 29th, is derivative, monotonous trash, and I’m carrying a lot of shame.

 

On the phone, you mentioned that you’ve been in therapy before. What kind of work did you do with your prior therapist?

I often found it soothing when she would take a copy of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and write “A Novel in Stories by Benjamin Nugent” on the jacket with a Sharpie. Sometimes we’d do that with The Corrections, and with Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. On my bad days she would pretend to be a fan begging me to read some of my stuff out loud. She’d go, “Will you just read that passage from Howard’s End, where you say that stuff about ‘only connect?’” And I would say, “There’s only so much of myself I can give to any one of my readers.”

Good Kids by Benjamin Nugent1. We’re Not Going to Get Thrown in a Van

The Dads were a man and a woman. They were my father, Linus, and Khadijah’s mother, Nancy. Khadijah called them the Dads because, in her family, Nancy played the traditional paternal role. She spent more time at work than Khadijah’s father, she made more money, she was harder to talk to. She was a Dad. And my father was a Dad.

To explain why we needed a name for the pair of them, I’ll start with the Friday that Khadijah and I, with our respective Dads, ran into each other at Gaia Foods. The Day of the Dads.

It was early March, Language Day at Wattsbury Regional. As sophomores active in language clubs—I, Russian; Khadijah, French—we both manned tables, selling borscht and mousse outside the cafeteria after school. We never spoke during Language Day, although our tables stood five feet apart. All I knew about Khadijah was that she was third-tier popular, all academics, no sports, no theater, no newspaper, an organized girl who recorded homework assignments in apple green pen in high-quality notebooks, and that her deceptively black-sounding name, pronounced Kah-DEE-jah, was a product of Nancy’s Sufi years.